Our 2014 NFL Draft Primed series will run through the start of the college football season. We will spotlight players that are flying under the national radar but could become household names in the near future.
You have to dig deep into the depths of the super sleepers to unearth this diamond in the rough. It’s easy to overlook the 5-foot-11, 185 “Y” receiver as he’s flanked by 6-foot-8 receiver Justin Jones and a young, promising signal caller in Shane Carden.
Hardy is becoming accustomed to being overlooked. Coming out of West Craven (NC) high school he wasn’t offered a division I scholarship and only offer came via Fayetteville State. Hardy would opt to walk-on at ECU and earn his way to a scholarship.
Earn his way he would do.
Justin Hardy spent 2010, his true freshman season, as a scout team standout player splitting time between quarterback (his HS position) and wide receiver. Hardy would take a redshirt in 2010 but drew the attention of the ECU coaching staff – who lauded his efforts on the scout team.
Hardy’s breakout season would come in 2011 as a redshirt freshman. Hardy made eight starts and appeared in ten games – missing two due to a knee injury. In his ten games, Hardy would snag 64 passes for 658 yards and six touchdowns. While Hardy wasn’t on any national radar, he certainly drew the attention of opposing coaching staffs.
Not much was expected from the ECU passing game in 2012. Conference foes were aware of Hardy but the loss of Dominique Davis at the quarterback position left the cupboards fairly empty. Rio Johnson won the starting duties but that lasted all of seven quarters after throwing three picks against South Carolina. Shane Carden would take over for Johnson and not look back in 2012.
Carden’s development as a first-year starter can be directly tied to his security blanket in Justin Hardy. ECU went to Hardy at all costs, especially when things really mattered. Hardy finished the season with 88 receptions for 1,105 yards and 11 touchdowns. In addition, he proved to be one of the conference’s best returners averaging 8.75 yards per punt return.
Hardy is only a junior and will most likely return for his senior season in 2014 but he’s one to watch as the season progresses. His size screams to be labeled ‘too small’ for the next level but he plays bigger. His straight-line speed is good, not great. Not exactly the makings of a special talent at the next level. That said, turn on an ECU game and it’s impossible not to notice No. 2. Hardy possesses natural hands and plucks the ball with the greatest of ease. On top of that, he possesses incredible athleticism – particularly in terms of lateral agility and elusiveness. With the ball in his hands, he’s a threat to take it the distance.
The ultimate testament to Hardy’s skill set is that he’s just learning the wide receiver position. Hardy played quarterback in high school and spent much of his first season playing scout team QB. The en vogue comparison for any slot receiver is Wes Welker. In most cases they don’t come close to comparing to Welker. In Hardy’s case – this could be an apt comparison. Hardy’s effortless catching the ball and plays at a different speed, despite not being the fastest.
As I said, Hardy may be a longshot to become an early entrant into the 2014 NFL Draft but he’s going to make talent evaluators take notice in 2013.